I had no idea what to expect from this album. I saw Alexisonfire do two of the best shows I've ever seen during their two-night stand at King Tuts Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow and was given a flyer for some forthcoming Dine Alone Records releases. On the back was an ad for City and Colour ("Dallas Green from AOF's solo project!"). I've always thought Dallas had an amazing voice and, in the absence of any new AOF material, thought I'd check it out.
When I went to my local independent music store (oooh, I'm so punk) to purchase said CD, I was immediately struck by how shitty the artwork was. It looks like the kind of shitty tatoos you find yourself getting when you're in prison for statutory rape...not that I would know. Anyway, crappy album artwork, but I soldiered ahead and bought the album anyway, marking the first time in ages I'd bought a CD having heard not a a single note of it beforehand. So I took it home, popped it in the stereo and...it's fucking acoustic. I was not a happy bunny. How fucking dare Dallas Green make music that doesn't have shouty bits; if I wanted to listen to acoustic emo I'd stick in the first Dashboard album (which I am not ashamed to own...much). So, after the initial shock and anger had moved into acceptance, I started the CD again and...started to like it.
Opening track "...Off by Heart" doesn't start the album well I feel. The lyrics "The stars are out tonight / But they won't align for us" is pretty representative of the themes of this record, i.e. unrequited or lost love. The track only lasts 1:51 and just doesn't seem to go anywhere. After hearing some of the demos that are floating around various p2p sites and fake MySpace accounts, there's any number of songs that could have been put on the album instead. Still, second track "Like Knives" is pretty good but highlights some of the problems on the record: the lyrics. While I'm a sucker for a cheesy emo number, "Your words are like knives / They peel my skin and pierce my soul," are just too overly earnest for my taste, a problem which rears its head throughout the album. However, the chorus of "I will blame myself" with a plinking piano behind it sounds (and I'd love a better word to use than this) lovely.
There are three standout tracks on the album (not to say the ones I haven't mentioned aren't any good -- far from it). The first: "Casey's Song" is excellent and has a great middle section with violins and a heartbeat sound while Dallas sings "break me" over and over. Lyrically, this song is somewhat lacking ("With you on my mind / And my heart held in your hands / Screaming / Break me / Oooh, oh"). It's still a great song though.
"Comin' Home" seems to deal with the perils of missing a loved one on the road, until we get to the final verse which ends with "Will it be my heart...or will it be his?," which adds a nice twist to the song and makes the last chorus of "I'm comin' home" sound quite threatening as the jilted lover travels back to perhaps get revenge...or am I reading too much into it? Hmmm... Lyrically, this is perhaps the strongest song on the record.
"Hello, I'm in Delaware," while taking its title from "Wayne's World," mines the same lyrical furrow as "Comin' Home" and has a fantastic melody and some great vocals from Dallas towards the end. In fact, the production on this album is fantastic. Dallas' voice sounds amazing -- compare it to the first AOF album where he sounds like he's got a really bad cold and it's even moreso.
Apart from the occasional lyrical misstep, I have very little to dislike about this album after giving it a proper listen. The absence of a truly great closing track loses it points in my book, but that's the only other fault I could find with it. However, while some emo kids might like it, fans of Dallas' other band might find this a tad lightweight for their liking. Also, fans of acoustic singer/songwriter types mgiht find the album a little trite to really cater to their tastes. So I'm not entirely sure which market City and Colour cater to, but if this record does find an audience, they will have a cracking little album on their hands.